Researching Affinity Spaces

Scholarly Critique #6

With a significant focus in Cycle 6 being the completion of the affinity space presentation and much reflection coming in the wake of that assignment, continued pursuits in the realm of affinity spaces seemed prudent and timely.  Jayne Lammers, Jen Curtwood and Alecia Magnifico authored an article titled, “Toward and Affinity Space Methodology: Considerations for literacy research”.  The article builds off Gee and Hayes’ depiction of what an affinity space entails and approaches the topic with an ethnographer’s viewpoint.  With many researchers tackling the challenge of studying affinity spaces and the effects they have on learners, Lammers and associates undertook outlining a series of elements that must be considered when conducting research.  These elements contained items of note that include, the motivation of participants, multimodal approaches to topics, group leaders, constant evolution of the space and socialization within the group.  Fueling the article was the groups belief that affinity spaces “support young adult’s motivation and creative production” (Magnifico, 2010).

As mentioned in Gee and Hayes, affinity spaces are social settings.  This article identifies the unpredictability of participation within these sites.  No longer is participation limited to a single discussion board on a webpage.  Rather affinity spaces have become launch pads for communication in a variety of arenas.  Sites now provide venues to post links to other blogs, videos, podcasts, etc. thus creating a multimodal based social setting.  As evaluated in the article, these various sites allow an increase in creativity and inclusion of different media.  The constant evolution of these sites and peripheral spaces creates a significant challenge for researchers/ethnographers.

The authors of this piece relied upon members of three different affinity spaces to provide information regarding functionality.  Although the writers claimed to be ethnographers themselves, to fully obtain that title will require them participating in the culture being studied and coming to their own firsthand conclusions.  As the interviewed members were unabashedly biased towards their affinity space, using them as informants provides a narrow and influenced view.  To appropriately conduct research into an affinity space, the researcher must become a participant and shed their reporter mentality.

After reading ‘Toward and Affinity Space Methodology” and completing my affinity space presentation, I would be very curious what research has been done on the topic of “characteristics of successful affinity spaces”.  A myriad of sites have failed, while others continue to grow and have hundreds of thousands of members.  What is the difference between a failed space and a successful one?

Affinity Space Reflection and Presentation

Although my affinity space failed to function as a healthy affinity space should, it did provide valuable insights as to how an affinity space should function and the benefits that can be garnered from such communities.  Upon recently finalizing my affinity space presentation, it provided me with the opportunity for a more holistic overview of my chosen affinity space, Teachers.net.

Over the weeks and through my attempted participation, I came to the very important realization that an affinity space must have moderators and current content to stay relevant with its fan base.  Teachers.net, despite providing the venues for the sharing of content, had far too few active members to make it a sustainable site.  Perhaps that is why affinity spaces with focused content such as a particular novel or series or a specific video game encounter success.  The members are not spread so thin that each post does not gain the full attention of the community, even for a very brief moment.

One of my early reservations about affinity spaces was the concern of having likeminded individuals regurgitating the same ideas with no contrasting viewpoints or constructive conflicts.  Even in the limited interaction amongst members in Teachers.net, this fear was quelled with a variety of backgrounds and skill sets that were brought to the table regardless of a shared passion for teaching.

With the closing of the affinity space project, I have no reservation about discontinuing my involvement with my chosen space.  However, a flame has been sparked to explore and engage in other communities as I have now the potential and obvious benefit in participating in affinity spaces.

Should you like to view my affinity space presentation, it is available on youtube at the following link:    B. Potter Affinity Space Presentation.  Please feel free to post any comments or questions to this posting.

Tried and True

Play Journal 3

For previous play journals, I have experimented with the trending games both in education and removed.  To be honest, I have found little allure to these games and decided to return to basics with a digital twist: Checkers.  A longtime favorite pastime of mine, I decided to download a networked version of checkers for my Ipad.  It of course had the basics of one and two player modes, but added the element of network play which has become common place in most games.  I will not elaborate on the rules of checkers as I am fairly certain everyone is familiar with the game.  Let it suffice to say that this version was no different than traditional checkers, except in the networked mode, there was a timer that players had to adhere by.  Unlike some other games, the repartee between players was always cordial or more typically non-existent.  I did find it frustrating at times playing in  network mode as other players would occasionally disappear from the game, presumably losing interest, which would ultimately lead to their concession.

I find checkers to be refreshingly simple, especially in comparison to more contemporary games.  Much like chess, but without the lengthy matches, checkers is void of bells, whistles, violence or any ulterior motives.  Out of the new age games I played over this course, none of them compare to the basic ingenuity and strategy required in this classic game.  A player is left to their own impulses as opposed to being directed by declining health meters and constant pop ups for new endeavors.  And yes, I know I sound like an old man, a very old man, but I promise you, I am in fact a millennial.

The general idea of checkers and its design is above reproach.  This particular version does have a significant flaw that hinders the overall strategy of the game though.  In the traditional rules of checkers, should a jump be possible at the beginning of the players turn, it is mandated that the player must take that jump.  This significantly plays into strategy as you can essentially force the opposition to move in a certain way with the sacrifice of one of your pieces.  The digital version that I played, allowed the player to decide whether or not to jump and even how many jumps they would like to make if a combination move was available.  Overall, I found this, in addition to the aforementioned resolve of some players to finish, to be the only flaw with the game.

Although checkers dates back to the Cradle of Civilization, it still has significant relevance to our modern readings and views on gaming.  According to Saunders in Teacher Pioneers, one of the keys to a good game is the variability of outcomes.  A defined outcome is better classified as a puzzle in opposition to the classification of game.  Checkers provides the participants with myriad opportunities for achieving one’s ultimate goal of capturing all of the opposing player’s pieces.  On a different level, and similar to the re-purposing of elements seen in Paul Darvasi’s The Ward Game, checkers provides a basic system that can be adapted to fit different instructional goals.  As Darvasi manipulated technology to meet his gaming needs, the premise of checkers can be altered to achieve certain learning goals as well.  For example in a classroom setting, students/players can be challenged with completing various tasks prior to moving or having different missions written on each game square that must be completed should they move one of their pieces to that particular spot.  Much like any time-tested game, the premise is sound and can be altered to meet near any learning objective.

Learning Reflection 2

As INTE 5320 continues to progress through the topics, my progression in the understanding of game theory and implementation continues to evolve.  To this point, the readings have by far initiated the most dramatic epiphanies, while game journals and affinity space involvement has been intriguing, it has not provided the same deeper learning.  The recent readings have been particularly powerful as they are a healthy combination of theory and practical application inside traditional classrooms.  This practical application of theory is what I was craving through the first few cycles of the course.  Particularly memorable was Darvasi’s article pertaining to The Ward as it dealt with a somewhat radical approach to an ELA classroom and had direct applications to my own teaching pedagogy.  In addition to the reading, the annotations posted on Hypothesis have shed creative insight on many topics and have alleviated confusion on others.  The scholarly critiques are also an enjoyable way to further explore topics that have been touched on in earlier readings or posts and introduces the all important element of choice into the readings.  Regrettably, the play journals and affinity space involvement has left me lukewarm to this point.  I have never been a gamer, but enjoy the idea of using game elements in my classroom, so the direct playing of games for the sake of reflection is not my passion, nor is the involvement in online communities.  Nonetheless, they provide interesting perspective shifts and have opened my eyes to platforms that I had neglected to explore previously.

My latest shift in thinking regarding games and learning revolves around the idea of basing an entire unit around a game.  Previously, I have viewed games as more standalone items to reinforce earlier taught material or in many instances a reward.  What teachers are doing with The Ward, Kingdoms of Aradya and Sick at South Beach have changed the way I view the implementation of games as well as how to utilize a variety of technological resources as opposed to being handcuffed by one platform.

Despite my newfound enthusiasm to implement a variety of technology in my units, I have still been reluctant to engage in networking with peers regarding the course.  This is excluding the regular use of Hypothesis.  Leaving comments on classmates’ blogs could be considered networking with classmates, but I have found that it seems to be a one-sided conversation with little to no bipartisan communication.  This particular area is my Achilles heel, not only for this particular course, but my online learning endeavors in their entirety.

The big question that has arisen out of the latest cycles is, “How can I use these extended gaming units in my classroom?”  As Saunders advised in “From Improvisational Puzzle to Interest Driven Inquiry,” the key is to start small with individual lessons or activities as opposed to tackling an entire unit.  This will be my approach moving forward to slowly develop and extend the reach of these games beyond single class sessions.  It will be a slow process and one filled with trial and error, but it will be a growing process for me as a teacher as well as my students.

My curiosity has been piqued by The Ward and other applications of how gaming can be used specifically in ELA classrooms.  The idea of total immersion into a game is captivating and I want more.  I will pursue additional case studies through scholarly critique selections as well as my affinity space to garner firsthand experience.

The Good, the Bad and the Screen

Scholarly Critique #5

Throughout much of the reading in INTE 5320, the benefits of video games have been examined with little to no attention paid to the detrimental effects games can have.  With this in mind, I sought out an article with a more non-biased approach to the pros and cons of video games.  Growing up, in the 80s and 90s, there was the mantra that video games would ruin your eyes and rot your brain.  Recent research, seemed to contradict these claims.  Sara Prot, et. al. in her chapter “The Positive and Negative Effects of Video Game Play” taken from the book, Media and the Well-Being of Children and Adolescents presents a more non-biased approach to the effects of video games.

Prot uses meta-analyses to examine both positives and negatives of video games on youths.  While a significant portion of the text is focused on aggression instigated by violent video games and an increase in attention deficit for serious gamers, the chapter does take into account positives such as mental processing and visual spatial coordination.  The final conclusion is still nebulous.  Prot comments that significant additional research is still needed on all fronts in regards to the effects video games have on participants, but it will always be impossible to designate gaming as strictly good or bad due to the complexity and variations in video games.

Aggressive tendencies being born out of violent pathological gaming is a strongly rooted social concern amongst non-gamers and skeptics and is one of the foundational anti-gaming tenets.  To counter this sociological downfall in gaming, Prot also examined the social effects of prosocial video games.  Prosocial games consist of gaming contexts that encourage players to help other characters as opposed to killing characters in more violent games.  These prosocial games increased empathy and a more congenial approach in the participants.  It can be assumed that gamers assume identities from the games they immerse themselves in much the same way that people adopt traits from the people they surround themselves with.

Considering the risk or video game addiction and the chapter’s detailed analysis of consequences on schooling: poor grades, inability to focus, apathy, etc., the question begs to be asked how parents will respond to an influx of video games in the classroom.  Although benefits are associated with using video games for educational purposes, there are still dramatic adverse consequences associated with over gaming.  With screen time on the dramatic rise, it will be interesting to see if parents draw the line or embrace further escalating the amount of time in front of screens in the name of educational pursuits.

The Ups and Downs

Affinity Space Reflection

My experience with my affinity space, Teachers.net, continues to be a roller coaster of enjoyment and disappointment.  Regretfully, this reflection dwells more within the latter.  After exploring and experimenting with the chat boards over the last few weeks, I decided it was time to move beyond the discussions and see what else that site had to offer.  Weeks ago, upon first looks, there appeared to be a plethora of resources and information.  This notion was dashed upon digging deeper.  Although the site is constructed with the ideal of providing a holistic platform for all teacher resources, broken links, inability for detailed searches and lack of depth severely hinder the usefulness of the site.

Although there is a considerable archive of lesson plans, 4687 in fact, the search parameters are limited to one: either grade level or content level.  It is not difficult to see the predicament this creates.  In defense of Teachers.net though, they did make it incredibly easy to share original content with other members by utilizing clear links and forms for submitting new content.

An additional flaw is content areas with broken links.  These are primarily in relationship to the live chat boards.  In addition to the broken links, there are no participants, so it is a bit of a moot point anyways.  This ties in closely with an aforementioned concern dealing with lack of participation.  After more closely scrutinizing different message boards, it appears there are only 250 to 350 participants at most in the most heavily trafficked boards and some groups as few as 45.  Even with the more popular groups, there is still a disturbing lack of participation on many posts with the most deeply analyzed posts only chalking up 5 to 6 responses.  The discussion boards are missing the key element of discussion.

Unlike many other affinity spaces, there is no hierarchy based on number of posts, likes, etc.  Everyone is equal, with no motivation to post other than goodwill and the desire to participate in a teacher community.  Despite my strong objections to motivating people to post comments through status achievement, perhaps this approach would be successful with Teachers.net.

Affinity Space Reflection

After consistently sporadic involvement with my affinity space, Teachers.net, I have found more and more enjoyment and value in the diversity of topics, varied perspectives and real world lessons and resources that are available through the site.  The content is near addicting due to the contributions coming primarily from other classroom educators.  Many of whom share similar issues and interests, but each person brings their own individualized skills and strategies to the group..  It is easy to go down the rabbit hole in perusing different topics and trends.  At first impression, the breadth of content was a concern of mine due to the scarcity of responses to some threads.  This has transitioned into opportunities for involvement in the various discussion groups.

Teachers.net is a true community with participants lending support and advice in reference to difficult situations and sharing in accomplishments and successes.  The toxicity that plagues other affinity spaces is absent from this network.  The culture is more of a support group than any individual or group attempting to exert dominance or status..  It can best be summed up as teachers teaching teachers.

The only criticism is still the lack of depth with some threads.  There appears to be a shared mentality among many members that a single response to a post is sufficient in addressing the posters query.  This is occasionally the case, but often further exploration is warranted and in many discussions this development is lacking.

Teachers inherently want to share  knowledge and teachers.net is the digital embodiment of this notion.

A One-Sided Coin?

Scholarly Critique 4

After being inspired by Cycle 4’s readings and the positives associated with game play, I pursued this theme.  The benefits as depicted in Bavelier et al’s article, “Brain Plasticity Through the Life Span: learning to Learn and Action Video Games” caused me to reevaluate my earlier notions on the effects of games.  Further exploration led me to Mark Griffiths’ article, “The Educational Benefits of Videogame”.  This article builds on the benefits demonstrated in hand eye coordination and reaction time, and examines the direct benefits between video games and actual educational skills.

Griffiths article relied heavily upon research previously conducted by A. Pope in 2001 where they presented 22 boys and girls with PlayStation games and had them play 40 one hour sessions.  They then compared their baseline brain wave patterns with post play data.  The results were conclusive in that the test group exhibited higher brain activity with a decrease in impulsiveness and hyperactivity.  This increased brain activity in turn allows learners to focus more effectively on content thus increasing the efficacy of the learning process.

Griffith takes this information and applies benefits to specific skills.  The tools learned through gaming extend beyond an increase in brain activity. The tools learned in games are directly applicable to four core skills: language, math, reading and social.  Language is developed through following instructions, math relates back to score counters, reading is increased similarly to language with the potential for adding in affinity space involvement, and social is captured through the potential of discussing games and interacting with other gamers (Griffiths 2002).  Although skills are basic and there is little depth to Griffiths’ argument, the fundamental logic is sound.

This article is based on the premises that skills learned in games can span multiple settings.  Most notably, the skill transference between a videogame setting and how these acquired skills and practices are applicable to real world learning environments.  Likewise, this application can be extended to scenarios outside school walls and are essentially helping students with the metacognitive capabilities of learning how they learn.  Basic skills in language, math, reading and community are lesson that are applicable to all settings, digital or physical.

After various readings throughout INTE 5320 and additional related readings dealing with the effects of gaming, the positives in gameplay seem to far surpass any potential negatives.  Even the critique of videogames being detrimental to eyesight has been reversed.  The question then begs to be asked as to how videogames first acquired such a negative designation in the 1980s and 1990s and why the sudden reversal in conclusions.  There are two sides to every coin.  The total discount of any negatives associated with videogames is troubling and calls the motivation and credibility of current research into question.

Not Quite Oregon Trail Quality

Play Journal 2: Civilization Revolution 2 (For Ipad)

With much of the research pertaining to games in the classroom revolving around Rise of Nations and the Civilization games, I thought it interesting to experience one of these games first hand.  I chose Civilization Revolution 2 due to an article recently read that uses Civilization 3 as the media for the study (“Changing the Game: What Happens when Video Games Enter the Classroom?” by Kurt Squire).  The game, as most are probably aware, revolves around building historical civilizations and achieving victory in a variety of manners that include everything from warfare to cultural and technological victories.  In order to successfully obtain these victories, a certain level of historical prowess is required.  To aid in this aspect, there are informational blurbs that the player can access and use to create more well-informed decisions.  The game begins slowly with few resources, inhabitants and other conflicts, but it rapidly snowballs and increases in complexity and challenge.  The overall feel of the game is very reminiscent to other turn-based strategy games with simply more of an historical approach.

There is the possibility that I just don’t have the patience for video games anymore.  I miss the days of Donkey Kong or Super Mario Brothers where anyone with half a brain and 10 minutes can conquer the basic skills to be successful.  Through playing Civ 2, I lost interest very early on, primarily due to the overwhelming number of icons, screens, status bars and other distractions from the main conflict of the game.  I am certain that with time, the different elements would become second nature.  To the novice though, they were a distraction and deterred from the more pleasurable aspects of the game.  The historical content that was included was incredibly interesting and provided an interesting context to the overall playing environment.  The game, overall, did a great job of blending learning elements with a video game.  It is no wonder that educators have turned to the Civilization games to help introduce World History topics.  With the proper upfront training, this game style has the potential to be incredibly engaging and informative.  In many areas, it reminds me of the classic Oregon Trail video game.

My largest critique of the game revolves around the tutorial.  It was far too elementary and left many unanswered questions.  So much so, that I aborted the tutorial and took on the game learning through trial and error.  Had the tutorial been more effective, I believe the overall experience would have been much more gratifying.

Although, not identical in applications, this game does spark an interest to design using technology.  Just as seen in Avan Alex Game’s article pertaining to Gamestar Mechanic, the experience revolves around design.  Of course, in Gamestar Mechanic it all about designing games and in Civ 2 it is all about designing civilizations.  Nonetheless, both games tap a player’s interest to create something new.  This design element provides the opportunity for autonomy which is crucial in game play.  Civilization 2 has the potential to be a phenomenal resource in the World History classroom with the caveat that it will be an enormous investment in time for students to get up to speed and to start acquiring knowledge through the game.